Editor-in-Chief's Column: Member Growth, Consolidation and Bigger CUs
I know what I’m talking about at least half the time: my 2011 predictions were hit and miss. Like any other industry observer, they’re all educated guesses, and we’re even asked to speak about what we foresee. As the late Red Skelton is often credited with saying, “Give the people what they want.”
The most far-reaching news story for 2011 was Bank Transfer Day and the public awareness opportunity it afforded credit unions. No one could have seen that coming. Once Credit Union Times got wind of it, we recognized the impact it could have and covered it like snow on Christmas.
The results of Bank Transfer Day were tremendous. Approximately 210,000 members joining in one month is incredible relative to credit unions’ experience in recent years. September and October membership growth was 75% of all of 2010.
The CUs that recognized this opportunity were rewarded with increased membership and loans. So my prediction for 2012 is that the CUs that see the bigger picture and take advantage will optimize the public awareness and continue to experience greater membership growth that will power them through the overall lull in lending.
Still other credit unions don’t have the resources, the willpower or the inclination to take advantage of these opportunities as they come along. When that happens, there becomes an even greater gap between the haves and the have-nots.
Small credit unions that provide specialized and worthwhile products that meet the needs of a particular niche will do very well. In discussing a variety of issues with the CEO of a $650 million credit union, we came upon mergers. His credit union wasn’t actively pursuing them, but he had taken in a few. At the same time, the CEO admitted the large credit union couldn’t possibly serve the membership of separate small credit union in the area as well as that credit union did.
In 2012, we’ll see a lot more consolidation of small credit unions. At the end of November, $1.7 billion Landmark Credit Union announced its sixth merger of the year, $26 million Horizon CU, and the $38 million Winthrop FCU merged with Webster First FCU, its third and pushing Webster First over $600 million in assets.
CUs under $100 million in assets will see the sharpest decline in their ranks. There will also be extraordinary growth in the number of CUs over $500 million in assets and the size of those over $500 million in assets. As of third-quarter 2011, NCUA listed 386 credit unions in that peer group. Next year that number should push up over 415 CUs.
Last year, I predicted an uptick in mergers. The decline in the number of credit unions between 2009 and 2010 was 3.0%, while the latest data from CUNA show a 3.2% decline from October 2010 through October 2011). With these last minute mergers getting reported, that percentage will increase further by yearend.
Multiple compounding pressures will accelerate consolidation in 2012. As of the end of October 2011 there were 7,409 credit unions. I would not be surprised to see that dip down below 7,100.
I had predicted that assets of troubled CUs would decrease in 2011, which they did from 5.04% of insured shares to 3.58%, according to the NCUA’s data. However, the number of CAMEL 4 and 5 credit unions was up, indicating more problems at smaller credit unions.
Additionally, some mergers that have been unique in 2011, such as the transcontinental ones by Chartway FCU, and across state lines, like Security Service FCU, will become more common. Scenarios where credit unions purchase the assets of ailing thrifts as in the $1.3 billion United FCU’s purchase of Griffith Bank’s assets will also raise fewer eyebrows in 2012. These events won’t open the floodgates but a handful of each will occur in 2012.
Crisis and regulation have forced the consolidation of the corporate credit union system. I had predicted we’d be down to six corporate credit unions by now. We’re down to 16 with announcements coming on two mergers, including WesBridge, as we headed into deadline last week, and we were awaiting another regarding U.S. Central’s resolution at deadline. I’ll back down on my prediction for 2012, but given the need for volume and other economic pressures, you can bet consolidation will continue. We could see 10 corporates by yearend 2012.
These consolidations have also caused some vendors to rethink their businesses. I predict one large technology vendor will at the very least quit serving CUs, if not merge or liquidate away during 2012.
Regarding assisted mergers and liquidations, the NCUA 2010 annual report explained that NCUA closed 28 credit unions in 2010. NCUA resolved these failures via 10 assisted mergers, five liquidations and 13 purchase and assumptions. The NCUA’s December board insurance report said there were only 14 failures as of Nov. 30, 2011, including one assisted merger and 13 liquidations of which eight were purchased and assumed by other credit unions. The total cost to the insurance fund was just $47 million.
Also relating to the NCUA, I had predicted another increase in the NCUA’s budget but “not nearly as much” as the previous 12%. This year’s increase turned out to be 5%, so that one was on the money.
But I was wrong about Geoff Bacino returning to the board in 2011. But the latest nominee, Carla Decker, will not make it in 2011 either.